Agaric. Agaricus Albus. White Agaric. Larch Agaric. Touchwood. Spunk. Tinder. Funpurgatif, Fr. Lärchenschwamm, G.—It is defined in the National Formulary IV as "the dried fruit body of the fungus Polyporus officinalis Fries (Fam. Polyporaceae) [growing on one or more species of Pinus Linne, Larix Adanson, and Picea Link (Fam. Pinaceae)], deprived of its outer rind, and without the presence of more than 10 per cent. of foreign matter." The term Agaric is more properly applied, however, to the fungi of the genus Agaricus, but most medical writers and the N. F. limit it to the fungus from Polyporus officinalis Fries (Boletus laricis Jacquin; B. purgans Persoon), which is found upon the old trunks of the European larch and upon Larix sibirica Ledebour, of Asia. The same species is found on various coniferous trees in some of the western United States and British Columbia. It is of various sizes, from that of the fist to that of a child's head, or even larger, hard and spongy, externally brownish or reddish; but, as found in commerce, it is deprived of its exterior coat, and consists of a light, white, spongy, somewhat farinaceous, friable mass, which, though capable of being rubbed into powder upon a sieve, is not easily pulverized in the ordinary mode, as it flattens under the pestle. That which is most esteemed is said to be brought from Siberia; but it is probably produced wherever the European larch grows. It is described in the N. F. as in " light, fibrous, somewhat spongy pieces of irregular shape; grayish-white to pale brown externally; yellowish and resinous internally; fracture tough, fibrous; friable but difficult to powder. The powdered drug, examined under the microscope, shows numerous non-septate, narrow, mycelial threads and many cubical crystals of calcium oxalate from 0.01 to 0.02 mm. in diameter. It yields to boiling alcohol not less than 50 per cent. of a resinous extract. Agaric yields not more than 2 per cent. of a white ash, rich in phosphates." N. F. Wm. M. McPheeters (St. L. M. S. J., x, 421) found a specimen brought from the Rocky Mountains decidedly cathartic in doses of twenty-four grains (1.6 Gm.).
Agaric has a sweetish, very bitter taste. It owes its medicinal virtues to Agaric acid (N. N. R., 1916), which is also called laricic and agaricinic acid. This is a tribasic acid, C19H36OH (COOH)3 + 1 ½ H2O, occurring as an odorless, tasteless, micro-crystalline powder, melting at 141.5° C. (286.5° F.). According to J. Schmieder, agaric contains a small amount of soft resin, C15H20O4, extracted with petroleum benzin, and from 4 to 6 per cent. of a fatty body, which is made up of
(1) agaricol, C10H16O, fusing at 223° C. (433.4° F.);
(2) phytosterin, C26H44O;
(3) solid hydrocarbons, C23H46 and C29H54;
(4) cetyl alcohol, C16H33.OH;
(5) a liquid aromatic alcohol, C9H18O;
(6) a fatty acid, C14H24O2; and
(7) ricinoleic acid, C18H34O3. Schmidt, Lehrbuch der Pharm. Chem., ii, 3te Auf., 1528.) J. D. Eiedel has produced two phenetidides of agaric acid, for which antipyretic and anhidrotic properties are claimed. (Ph. Ztg., xlvii.) Sodium, Lithium and Bismuth agaricinates have been prepared and introduced into medicine.
According to Hoffmeister (A. E. P. P., 1889, xxv, p. 189), in a moderate dose, agaric acid has no effect upon the system, except to paralyze the nerves of the sweat glands. When given in very large doses, it produced primary excitation of the medulla, followed by paralysis, increasing at first the blood pressure and the respiratory rate, which was followed by diminishing activity in both. The large doses also acted as an irritant to the stomach and intestine, causing vomiting and purging. The depressant action shown on the sweat glands was not shared by the other glands of the body. McCartney (J. P. Ex. T., 1917, x, 83) offers the remarkable theory that its antihydrolic action is due to spasm of the muscular layer of the skin. The most important use of agaric is in the treatment of the colliquative sweats of wasting conditions, such as phthisis. Its value in these conditions has been abundantly confirmed by clinical experience. Aside from the solanaceous drugs, it is probably the most reliable remedy that we possess for this purpose. Rosenbaum has found the fluid extract of agaric (Med. Klin., 1906) of service in various catarrhal conditions of the alimentary tract, even in intestinal tuberculosis.
Under the name of agaricin are marketed preparations containing the active agaric acid, with larger or smaller amount of impurities. The dose of the pure principle is from one-sixth to one-half of a grain (0.01-0.03 Gm.).
Thoerner obtained from Agaricus atramentosus crystalline, dark-brown scales, which he believed to be dioxykinon. (Ber. d. Chem. Ges., 1878, 533.) According to T. L. Phipson, Agaricus ruber contains a rose-red coloring matter, ruberin, which appears bright-blue by transmitted light; being soluble in water, it is washed out of the head of the fungus by a heavy fall of rain. Ether extracts from the fungus a yellowish-white alkaloid, agarythrine, which has a bitter, afterwards burning taste, somewhat like aconitine; its chloride is soluble, but the sulphate insoluble in water, the latter dissolving in alcohol; it dissolves in nitric acid with red color, and is colored red by chlorinated lime and afterwards bleached. On agitating the solution of the alkaloid with ether, it is oxidized by the air to a red coloring matter, which is probably the cause of the red color of the surface of the fungus. (Chem. News, 1882, 199.) An agaric growing on the Larix leptolepis, and used in Japan as a sacred medicine under the name of Toboshi or Eburiko, has been found by Y. Inoko to contain agaric acid. (Sei-I-Kwai, April, 1891.)
Fungus chirurgorum. Boletus chirurgorum, Wundschwamm, G.—Surgeon's agaric is the product of Polyporus fomentarius (L.) Fries, which is found upon the oak and beech trees of Europe. It is shaped somewhat like the horse's foot, with a diameter of from six to ten inches. It is soft like velvet when young, but afterwards becomes hard and ligneous. It usually rests immediately upon the bark of the tree, without any supporting footstalk. On the upper surface it is smooth, but marked with circular ridges of different colors, more or less brown or blackish; on the under surface, it is whitish or yellowish, and full of small pores; internally it is fibrous, tough, and of a tawny-brown color. It is composed of short tubular fibers compactly arranged in layers, one of which is added every year. The best is that which grows on the oak, and the season for collecting the fungus is August or September. It has neither taste nor odor. Among its constituents, according to Bouillon-Lagrange, are extractive, resin in very small proportion, nitrogenous matter also in small quantity, potassium chloride, and calcium sulphate, and in its ashes are found iron, and calcium and magnesium phosphate. It is prepared for use by removing the exterior rind or bark, cutting the inner part into thin slices, and beating these with a hammer until they become soft, pliable, and easily torn by the fingers. In this state it was formerly much used by surgeons for arresting hemorrhage, being applied with pressure. P. ignarius (L.) Fries and P. marginatus Fries yield similar products.
When prepared polyporus (so-called agaric) is steeped in a solution of nitre, and afterwards dried, it constitutes spunk, punk, or tinder, the amadou of the French, which occurs in flat pieces, of a consistence somewhat like that of very soft, rotten buckskin leather, of a brownish-yellow color, capable of absorbing liquids, and inflammable by the slightest spark. It is said to be prepared also from various other species of Polyporus, as P. ungulatus, P. ribis, etc.